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Learning to drift in a BMW 1M Coupe
Whatever you think you might know about drifting, chances are you’ll be wrong. It’s not about a lack of grip, or about using the throttle to control the direction of the car - no, the key thing to remember is that whichever way the front wheels are pointing, that is the direction you’ll head in. It’s almost best to ignore the slide, because that just confuses things.
Remember this, and the rest of the lesson starts to make sense. Because that’s why we’re at Santa Pod today - a master class in drifting from James Hudson, who runs a drift school through www.therealgranturismo.com. And fortunately, he’s bought some spare tyres.
First lesson of the day in the school’s Nissan 350Z, with a drift-spec rear diff, is about donuting. And remembering to go gently with the right foot. It’s easy to get the 350Z sideways - constant radius circle, car hovering at point of understeer, lift momentarily, then dump the power - but much trickier to sustain it. James tells me to let go of the wheel as soon as the back end breaks away, because that way the front wheels straighten instantly and you can then control the car’s direction much better.
This feels alien. I’d be happier holding onto the wheel and trying to dial out the lock myself, but for novices it’s better to let go because the wheel can turn itself quicker than the driver can. And novices don’t have enough finesse to judge the amount of lock required.
Either way, we spin. And then spin again. And then spin a bit more. I’m suffering from three problems: either not letting go of the wheel quickly enough, or giving it too much throttle, or sawing at the wheel too much. The trick to steering during the drift is to do just that - steer the car in whichever direction you want to head. But use short, quick inputs. Keep the arm twirling to a minimum and you’ll get on better.
Having completely failed to do an entire donut, I then attempt a figure of eight. This obviously involves a turn with a change of direction, and apparently a spin doesn’t count as ‘a change of direction’. Pity.
The trick with this one is the transition, when the car stops turning right as if it was going to continue the donut, and instead starts to move left into the figure of eight. And, yet again, there’s a popular myth with how you get it to do that - don’t lift off suddenly. Keep the revs up and simply turn the steering wheel left.
Honestly, it’s amazing how much control you’ve got over the 350Z, even when it’s sliding about. When you turn left (again, it’s a short stab to the left, not a long turn), the car will start to drive in that direction.
There are two tricks here. Don’t turn too early - even though it feels like you’ve gone too far to make it back for the left hand cone, your mind is playing tricks on you. There’s always time.
And also, you will need to lift eventually. If you keep the power on, when you transition into a left-handed donut, the Z will spin. Which, unsurprisingly, is what happens to me - because I’m so chuffed that I’ve managed to get the Z going left, I forget all about maintaining the new donut, keep the throttle buried and promptly end up facing the way I’ve just come.
Drifting is all about anticipation. If you realise you’ve done something wrong, you’re already too late. James could probably rescue some of my mistakes - like me flicking the car for a change of direction too early so a cone gets clobbered - but for a novice, any of these corrections come far too unnaturally. You have to think, and that’s when you fail. Because drifting is also about natural intelligence and skill. Not about a heavy right boot.